A Film Review By Stefan Vlahov
I was apprehensive about this film before I saw it, thinking it would be the first bad Tom Cruise film in thirteen years (1990’s Days of Thunder is his last bad film in my opinion). Thankfully, M:I:III is a well-crafted film that not only entertains, but flaunts some wonderful filmmaking qualities. That was also surprising, considering director J.J. Abrams’s history as a TV Series creator is at best spotty. From his three series he has created – “Felicity”, “Alias”, and “Lost”, the only one worth watching is “Alias” and that’s only because of Jennifer Garner’s beauty and great screen presence. The other two are/were undeservingly successful series that rely on repetitive gimmicks and contain B-Movie filmmaking. Both evolve into soap operas after a while and the acting in both (especially “Lost”) is unforgiveably bad.
Fortunately, Abrams incorporates more “Alias” than “Lost” in this film and it fits the film well. Even the screenplay structure is the same, with letters indicating each location-change. The locations here include some interesting choices like Shanghai, China, The Vatican, and Berlin, Germany in addition to of course L.A. There is of course, a negative to having all these locations in the film, because the film loses focus. To tell you the truth I don’t remember where any of the action sequences took place, except for the jumping-off-the-building sequence in Shanghai. Still, the screenplay is really good (written by Abrams with the two most wanted screenwriters today – Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci) .
It tells the story of Ethan Hunt, who has decided to get married to the down-to-earth Julia (Michelle Monaghan). He has retired from the IMF, but when a big challenge faces the agency,, he is called back by Agent John Musgrave (Billy Crudup) and is teamed-up with Luther Strickell (Ving Rhames), Declan (Johnatha Rhys Meyers) and Zhen (Maggie Q). Their [impossible] mission is to capture international arms dealer Owen Davian (Phlip Seymour Hoffman) before he makes a deal that involves a mysterious piece of software codenamed ‘Rabbit’s Foot” with a group of Middle Eastern rich guys . Owen proves tougher to capture and more intelligent than previously thought and he transforms from prey to predator in a short amount of time.
The film starts out with one of the most intense openings of any movie this year. It’s a scene that has Hunt tied down and his wife Julia sitting across from him with a gun pointed to her head by Owen Davian himself. Davian asks Hunt for the ‘Rabbit’s Foot’ and he gives him 10 seconds to tell him. With each lie/excuse/attempt at negotiation by Hunt, Davian adds an extra second. When the count finally gets to 10 we hear the gunshot and see Hunt screaming. Fade to black. It is an amazing opening, and the script does a good job of making us care about Ethan and Julia’s relationship before that happens. That is especially true in one scene on a balcony between them that could have easily be turned into another cliche, but the good acting (especially by Cruise) and the less talk-more facial expression attitude towards the construction of the scene make it a memorable one. It is one of many memorable scenes.
The action sequences here are exciting, even though they aren’t as well staged as the ones in John Woo’s M:I:II. There is of course the memorable one on the bridge that is highlighted in the trailers, and also there is the final action sequence that is full of emotion and suspense, even though it is much smaller in scope than all the others. Still, this doesn’t look like a $150 million dollar film. I mean, the action sequences here are nothing like action sequences in films like V for Vendetta or UltraViolet. Those two films are a lot cheaper than this, and their action was much more grand than anything here. I guess I should blame this on Abrams and cinematographer Dan Mindel. The truth is Mindel is capable of much better work than this – just look at his past two efforts Domino and The Skeleton Key – they are wonderful feats cinematographically speaking, so Mindel’s bland style here is unforgivable.
In fact the only thing keeping this from becoming just a fun B-Movie are the big names involved. I mean, there are few movies that have such big names like Laurence Fishburne, Simon Pegg, and Keri Russell taking bit roles. It is a great ensemble cast and there are very few negatives here. Tom Cruise is solid as Ethan Hunt and since this story is a lot more personal, his character has to go through some very emotional scenes. Michelle Monaghan is also really good, and she shows some great cleavage in a scene towards the end. Keri Russell suffers from some over-acting, but it’s still an honorable and difficult performance. Philip Seymour Hoffman is badass and so is Laurence Fishburne. The one minus in this cast is sad to say – Billy Crudup. He is unlikeable from the beginning and he is in a role that requires charisma, but he is unable to pull it off.Also there is Johnathan Rhys Meyers who is just forgettable and leaves a bad taste in your mouth. His accent doesn’t help either.
So, overall this is one of the better action pictures of the year. It invokes drama and the series continues to stay consistent with what Brian DePalma did in the original M:I. J.J. Abrams might not bring anything new to the action genre as far as staging sequences, but he makes a good effort to keep the viewer interested. It is a pity that he is let down by a score by Michael Giacchino that is at best forgettable and at worst – terrible. Still, this is a small negative and if you like twists and turns in your action films, coupled with exotic locations and a badass villain – this film will definitely appeal to you.